Teaching My Baby To Read

Home » Classical Education » Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program; A Reading List for Children Part 1

Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program; A Reading List for Children Part 1

(Please note that this post has no official affiliation in any way shape or form with Stanford University. I am however, a Stanford and SLE alumna, and I consulted several of my SLE friends to help formulate this list.)


In college I spent my first year at Stanford in the Structured Liberal Education program, which is perhaps the most rigorous curriculum in Classical Education a freshman can take. At 9 units a quarter, SLE is a year-long course where students immerse themselves in literature, philosophy, art, and the humanities. Ninety freshmen live in the same residence hall, eat dinner three times a week with their professors, write a ten page paper a week, and have a private SLE writing tutor to critique their work. There is even a resident SLE tutor to assist in the evening hours. At Stanford, “SLEeezers” are nerds among nerds!

This is the “SLE Inspired” reading list I’ve created for Bruce (age 6) that is inspired by the Fall syllabus from my freshman year in SLE. I plan to read the books one by one with Bruce at bedtime, so that we can thoroughly discuss them over the next six to nine months. In the future, I will review each book separately, so that I can share my thoughts on whether or not it is worthwhile checking out for your little one too. Some of these books I have purchased, and some we will check out from the libary. I am also including a list of movies, because every Thursday evening in SLE we watched a movie that was inspired by our reading from the week. My movie list is still a bit sparse, so I welcome your suggestions!

Learning Goals for Children

  • Understand that people from other countries, cultures and religious traditions might have different core beliefs and thoughts about the world than we do.
  • Identify, explore and evaluate those beliefs, and consider how they influence action and practice.
  • Become well versed in Greek mythology, and understand the connection between ancient stories and the Western values we prize today, in the modern world.


Reviewed So Far

Not Yet Reviewed


  1. 1995 version of The Little Princess, to watch after reading the Ramayana
  2. The Prince of Egypt, to watch after reading Torah
  3. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, to watch after reading about Odysseus
  4. Flight of the Navigator, to watch after reading about Odysseus

Update: 8/10/11

I was just poking around the Stanford online Bookstore today and discovered that the fall quarter book list for SLE (Structured Liberal Education) is finally up. Here are the official fall 2011 texts:

  1. Plato’s Republic
  2. New Oxford Annotated Bible: NRSV (with Apoc)
  3. Bhagavad Gita
  4. Aristotle, Selections
  5. Aeschylus’s Oresteia
  6. Homer’s Odyssey
  7. Virgil’s Aeneid
  8. Plato’s Symposium
  9. Plato’s Last Days of Socrates
  10. Sappho, Poems and Fragments

Here’s the embarrassing part. I just went to the bookshelves in my living room and pulled out the entire Fall quarter reading list. Oh my gosh!!! Fifteen years later and I’m still a SLE nerd! The crazy part is that with the exception of the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita, I had sold back all of my textbooks, meaning that the rest of these books have been purchased and read by my husband for fun. If I’m a SLEeezer, than he is a wanna-be SLEeezer.

So now I can finally check my reading list for children and see how accurate my memory was. It turns out, Buddhism and Islam are coming off of my list.

I’m still holding onto the Ramayana however. I specifically remember the Ramayana being in our reader, as well it being one of the first texts discussed in lecture. Incidentally, I remember the professor who was a guest speaker that night as giving a fantastic presentation, and also being quite old. Now looking back, I think she was only about 50. Geesh, that’s not very old at all!

The other difference I am 100% sure of is the pick for the Bible. I happened to have owned and used the New Oxford Annotated Bible when I was in SLE, but I remember the required text being a Jewish Bible. I don’t know why this was, but I do remember gaining new meaning from the Bible by learning about it in the context of Judaism instead of Christianity.

Now that I’m waxing philosophical, I have to mention how lucky I was to be in Suzanne Greenberg’s section fall quarter. She invited all of her students over to her house in December for dinner and to play dreidel. It is one of my favorite memory’s from college because my student academic advisor Henry Tien drove me and some other students over, and we all had so much fun sitting on Suzanne’s living room floor and playing for chocolate coins. We had to divide all of the gelt up evenly at the end of the evening, in accordance to Greenberg house rules. Henry died a few months later, and so this is a very happy memory to hold on to.

Conclusion 9/5/11

For the past four months my six year old Bruce and I have been reading through a selection of books inspired by fall quarter of Stanford University’s Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program.  I have often referred to this on my blog as my SLE Inspired Reading List.  We have also finished up listening to all eight hours of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 1 about ancient history, and are already midway through Story of the World Volume 2 about the Middle Ages.  Fall is upon us, first grade is starting, and it is the natural time to move on to other pursuits.

The perfectionist in me is having difficulty not finishing the last items on my list, but the parent in me knows when it is time change course.  We have not yet read the kiddie version of The Aneid I had selected and we never got to Aristotle because I was unsuccessful in locating a child’s version of his philosophies.  I’ve also had to give up my fantasy of Bruce listening to harp music and me reciting lines from Sappho, which was one of my favorite SLE memories.

For many of you reading this, you might be thinking; why even bother? SLE for six-year-olds?  You’ve got to be kidding me!  But really, childhood is the perfect time to introduce all of these stories and ideas.  I have two words for you: visceral imagination.

When I was a freshman in college reading The Ramayana, I was concerned about a thousand things. What would my thesis be for this text?  When would I find time to crank out a ten page pager? What did the professor just say?  Do I have enough quarters to do laundry?  Is my roommate going to pay her share of the phone bill?  Does that boy like me?  Will I be able to bike from my part-time job to lecture in time?  Where did I put my glasses?  Do my professors know that I went to public school?

When Bruce listens to The Ramayana he’s thinking: Whoo hoo!  Flying monkeys!!!  Then he’s jumping off the couch and onto the loveseat yelling: Sita, here I come!  When we read The Adventures of Odysseus Bruce is crashing around the living room with his pirate sword, ready to slay suitors.  When we read A Child’s Garden of Torah he’s joking with me about turning into salt if I cross him.  When we read Stories from Plato Bruce imagines that the rock in the middle of the lake he is swimming in, is really the lost island of Atlantis.

There is going to be a time and a place for Bruce to revisit all of these ancient texts with profound analysis.  But there is only one time in his life when he will hear these great ideas for the first time.  I am glad that I was able to share that introduction with him, and to witness his awe and wonder.


  1. jenbrdsly says:

    I don’t know where the comment went, but one of my readers (a Stanford alumna no less) suggested adding D’ulaires book of Greek myths. Done! Thank you for the tip.

  2. aly in Va. says:

    Great book selections. We own many of them. Is Yoga Pretzel a story or more like various moves for the child to do?

  3. JoAnne says:

    SLE sounds an awful lot like Directed Studies, which I did my freshman year at Yale. I have those books, too. And yes, we were the nerds among nerds. 😉


    • jenbrdsly says:

      I look forward to reading your “Inspired by Directed Studies, a Reading List for Children” soon! 🙂 Actually, that would be pretty darn cool. Please let me know if you ever make one.

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